An alumnus of Riverbank High School completed his study at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and now has fresh Ensign’s bars on his shoulders. Getting ready for the next step, he is preparing to travel to Japan to meet up with his ship.
Eli Vernon, of the RHS Class of 2016, returned to his parents’ home following graduation. He said he had a few weeks of what they call ‘basket’ leave, before he had to return to Norfolk, Virginia to get some instruction in navigation and other shipboard necessities before meeting up with his ship, the USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54).
Vernon graduated with a degree in Weapons, Robotics and Controls Engineering, so he’s not exactly sure what shipboard assignment he might be assuming.
Since 2016, the Wilbur has been home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. It’s a guided missile destroyer and has a complement of about 280 officers and enlisted men and women.
Graduation from the Naval Academy was streamed on the internet on Friday, May 22, the same day that RHS seniors were receiving their diplomas. However, Vernon said, the actual graduation was held on May 18, that Monday. And what was seen was just a quarter of his thousand-plus class.
He pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic hit just as they were all on spring break, so they had to quarantine in smaller groups. When it was time to graduate, they still needed to be socially distant. Ceremonies were held in four parts, in the courtyard in front of the main administration building, with the usual speakers, and the graduates sitting six feet apart. And, like most other institutions, they were not awarded their certificates as part of the ceremony.
They did get to toss their caps in the air, a long-standing tradition at most military academies.
As it turned out, even though some hometown family and friends were watching the speeches and ceremonies online, it’s not likely they got to see Vernon in the group. Instead, at the end of the speeches, a PowerPoint presentation was shown, with one page per graduate. With more than a thousand members of the class, it was a guess as to when Vernon’s would be shown. As it turned out, with the class the size it was, it was divided up into 25 companies. Vernon was actually near the end of the list ... in the 25th company ... a long wait.
In addition to his degree and officer’s commission, Vernon did come home with one other accessory – a girlfriend, a member of his class, and now also an Ensign.
Only problem, he said, is that she’s from the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast, and he’s a California kid, so far. He noted that he’ll be going to Norfolk, Virginia, which isn’t far from there, but he also had to show up two weeks early because his class had to quarantine for that time before their classes start.
Another difficulty will be that she, too, has to leave for her classes. And she’ll be going to flight school at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida training to become a jet pilot.
Vernon follows in his brother Calvin’s footsteps somewhat. Calvin graduated from RHS several years earlier, according to his father, Gary, and also went to Annapolis.
Vernon pointed out that Calvin did what they call a ‘five and dive’ — serve the required five years of active duty after graduation, then get out and get a civilian job. He now works in Southern California.
The younger Vernon said at this point, he isn’t sure what he’ll be doing. He said he might just do his 20 years and retire, being only 38 or so, then getting a civilian job. Or, he said, he just might’ and dive’ too, he just doesn’t know at this early stage.
And he said he has some pretty good contacts at Disney, having won an ‘Imagineering’ contest earlier this year with a group of his peers at the academy. He just hasn’t decided.
At the Naval Academy, Vernon successfully completed four years of academic, physical, and professional military training. He participated in USNA Marauders Pipe and Drum Corps and other productions of academy arts programs.
The Academy’s 2019 total enrollment was 4,495.
Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy today is a prestigious four-year service academy that prepares midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically to be professional officers in the naval service. The men and women there represent every state in the U.S. and several foreign countries, making up the student body, known as the Brigade of Midshipmen.
U.S. News and World Reports has recognized the Naval Academy as a top five undergraduate engineering school and a top 20 best liberal arts college.
Midshipmen learn from military and civilian instructors and participate in intercollegiate varsity sports and extracurricular activities. They also study subjects such as leadership, ethics, small arms, drill, seamanship and navigation, tactics, naval engineering and weapons, and military law. Upon graduation, midshipmen earn a Bachelor of Science degree in a choice of 25 different subject majors and go on to serve at least five years as commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps.
The academy’s more than 81,000 alumni include one president, 21 members of Congress, five governors, 73 Medal of Honor recipients, two Nobel Prize winners, 52 astronauts, and 4,000 admirals and generals.